A Documentary by Nakul Singh Sawhney, ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ recently aired on Netflix, belongs to genre of ‘controversial’ movies which are released after being banned in a number of states due to protests.
Based on the real events that led to the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 and the aftermath of it, the documentary attempts to tell a story through the eyes of the various stakeholders who were involved, whether they desired or not, in the communal violence that shook the roots of Hindu-Muslim unity which was prided amongst by the various villages of Western Uttar Pradesh districts.
The genius of the film lies in the slow progression it makes towards the major issue of communal violence. As an audience, there is not a moment where the filmmaker seems to be imposing his own ideas or belief as to what conspired. The narrator, while facilitates an easy interpretation of the story, nowhere seems to take a biased opinion except for stating the facts. It is the statements of the people involved, be it the small girl sketching her family’s figure and describing what happened or the elderly of the village who are shown to discussing the parties who they think were responsible and for whom they are going to vote. The documentary successfully builds a logical trajectory as it takes the audience with it in unravelling the layers and finally reach the tipping and the triggering point of the whole incident.
Not limiting itself to the incident, it further shows us the differences that exist in general amongst the people and the range of contrasting opinions that can exist because of the lack of education and awareness amongst the rural societies of India. If educated and aware, the lack of proper platforms to air their grievances on and the lack of proper institutions (read: legal aid), also serve as a detriment to performing the functions of responsible members of a society. The interviews of stakeholders ranging from the immediately affected to the ones that closely witnessed and anticipated the likelihood of such violence, including a special segment on women whose honour was used as a typical scapegoat for blaming the cause as well as the resultant violence, is applaudable.
An alumnus of FTII and a filmmaker who has had close connections with other political and social issues such as honour killing, Sawhney’s attempt is successful in the sense it strikes just-the-right chord with the audiences and the rest of the population of the country who might be completely unaware of the actual reasons leading to the incident. The instances in the story makes the audience realise the gravity of the riots which have almost become an everyday part of the news articles and headlines. A small boy of hardly 10 years old mumbling “Humari dukaan phunk di” because of the trauma that he suffered and going completely quiet after, the school headmaster who was completely ridiculed and made to leave, the change in slogans of the various farmer’s associations and the deplorable conditions of the various refugee camps set up in the aftermath etc.
Heartbreaking on one hand, the documentary endearingly captures the change that the riots inspired in the otherwise united and friendly community of religious differences. The movie concludes with Gorakh Pandey’s message that a day would dawn when the poor and the unarmed would stop getting scared and that is the day that the rich and the wicked should fear! Sawhney succeeds in portraying this message with utmost honesty and dignity making it a must-watch for every Indian, if not to discover the details Muzaffarnagar riots, but at least to understand the basic fabric of ‘us’ as a nation and never letting others use it to our disadvantage.